Islamic State leader Neil Prakash says he was ‘just a normal soldier’
Turkish authorities should release Australian Islamic State fighter Neil Prakash while it continues to investigate him, his lawyer told a court on Thursday, as the extradition case against him was adjourned yet again.
Prakash insisted via video-link to the court that he was nothing more than an Islamic State footsoldier – a claim he has repeatedly made.
Australia wants the Melbourne born Islamic State fighter to be extradited to face terrorism charges, but the case, which has been in and out of the Turkish courts for months, was delayed again until July 19.
The judge said Prakash would remain in custody as prosecutors gathered more evidence. The case took only 15 minutes, amid technical difficulties.
Wearing a black t-shirt and a goatee, and staring at the camera beaming his image from a high security prison in Gaziantep, Prakash said: “On the first charge that I am a member of ISIS it is true. But with the other charge, I have nothing to do with that.
“I was just a normal soldier, I had nothing to with leadership or anything.”
Prakash is a high priority asset for the Australian government, which has been seeking his extradition since a warrant was put out for his arrest in August 2015.
He is alleged to have been instrumental in IS’s online recruitment, and to have been involved in the foiled plots to bomb targets on Anzac Day commemoration services in Sydney in 2015 and 2016.
Prakash also denied this.
“The more you keep on investigating you’re not going to find anything. I have nothing to do with the second charge” he said.
His court appointed lawyer, Alper Unver asked the court to release Prakash. The judge flatly denied his request.
Unver told Fairfax Media that Prakash was involved in another case filed by the Turkish authorities, which deems IS militants dangerous to the Republic of Turkey. This was part of the continued delay in the judicial process, he said.
Turkish authorities, acting on a tip-off from Australian Federal Police, captured the fighter in small Turkish village as he was attempting to cross the border from Syria in October, 2016. Prakash was thought to have been killed three times in US airstrikes in Iraq but had managed to survive.
Amarnath Amarasingam, a senior fellow at London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue researching Western foreign fighters, maintains that Prakash “was definitely one of the main guys active during the peak of ISIS activity on Twitter, Surespot and other platforms.
“He was … accessible and was easy to talk to, unlike a lot of other ISIS fighters”.
Amarasingam who had been in contact with a fighter who personally knew Prakash says that, “a lot of youth approached him for advice, asked him religious questions, and he almost certainly gave operational and logistic advice to several kids about how to get to Syria”.
The diminutive 26-year old mechanic and rapper, known by his nom de guerre Abu Khaled Al Cambodi, lived in Melbourne until 2013 before travelling to Syria to join IS. He was a frequent attendee of the now closed Al Furqan Media Centre after his conversion to Islam from Buddhism in 2012.
He appeared in a slick 12 minute IS propaganda video in April 2015.
Last week Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that Prakash would be subject to three more years of financial sanctions, making it an offence to deal with his assets or make them available to him.
Kevin Boreham, a law academic at the Australian National University, said there was no general rule on the length of time extradition requests take. The penalty for entering foreign countries with the intention of engaging in hostile activities is life imprisonment.
Consular officials in attendance of the extradition hearing in a court in Kilis, a Turkish town close to the Syrian border, refused to comment.